Monday, August 13, 2018

Surviving maternity leave

I really had no idea what to expect from maternity leave. I've always worked, even when I was in school. All my friends work, so it isn't like I could count on meeting up with people on a weekday. D took four weeks of leave, and that time passed in this lovely haze (mostly - the first week of c-section recovery is a special form of hell, but after that things got better). I mean, we were tired, sure, but we took advantage of the newborn stage and went out a lot. If there was an outdoor patio, we were there. And then he went back to work and I knew I needed some kind of strategy to get me through the next couple months. I have struggled with depression and anxiety in the past, so I was hyper-aware of my potential for developing postpartum depression and I wanted to do everything I could to try to keep myself in a good place.

I want to make it crystal clear here that PPD is not something to take lightly and I don't believe that you can pull yourself out of depression with sheer willpower. I was 100% prepared for the possibility of taking medication if necessary. I am incredibly lucky because I didn't develop PPD (yet - did you know it can set in months after giving birth? stay vigilant!) but I can't say that was due to anything I did. That said, I know that there are steps I can take that help keep me on track when I'm struggling, and I felt better when I had a plan.

{scene from my daily walk}

When D was getting ready to go back to work I sat down and made myself a list of categories that I needed to hit in order to feel human each day. These might be different for you, but for me it was:

Social - text, phone call, actual meet up with other people (I went to a support group once a week but that was often the only in person thing I did)
Self-care - shower, brush teeth, change clothes even if it's just to a new pair of sweats, do a face mask
Get out of the house - walk outside, or sit in backyard, or drive somewhere
Productivity - laundry, dishes, vacuuming, grocery shopping, writing, etc.
Physical activity - taking a walk or even just cleaning the house
Eating - remembering to eat is a real issue sometimes, so I kept a good supply of decent snacks (mostly trail mix packets) in a visible location

The bar was suuuuuper low in each of these categories. I only had to do one of those things in each category each day (although I did try to shower, brush my teeth, and change my clothes daily). There were plenty of days where the only social thing I did was send a quick text to a friend, but it still helped. The categories can overlap too. Spending 20 minutes running around cleaning the house counts as productivity and physical activity. I made sure that I got a little bit of time alone each evening when D was home where I could just retreat to the bathroom and spend a luxurious 15 minutes washing my face and brushing my teeth to get ready for bed. The nighttime routine felt like a chore pre-baby and now it feels like a full on spa day.

I found that days where I followed this checklist were the easiest for me emotionally. I'm not saying I never felt sad, or lonely, or exhausted and isolated and confused about why this country doesn't take parental leave seriously, for fuck's sake. Ahem. But having goals made the time alone feel more structured and manageable and even enjoyable. The newborn stage is hard but it's also such a sweet time and I wanted to be able to be aware of it and savor it to whatever extent possible. I think I did a pretty good job and I'm grateful for the time I had to focus on her exclusively.

This all fell apart when I started working from home, FYI. I can't tell you how many times D gets home in the evening and I suddenly realize I haven't brushed my teeth or eaten all day, forget actually making it out for a walk. Trying to squeeze in work during every possible free moment is no joke and I'm not killing it in the balance department these days but it's for such a limited time that I'm just kind of surviving. It helps that my sister is here at least a couple days a week to help with the baby, but I still find that I'm crawling the walls by Thursday evening. I have never appreciated weekends so much, because even though I still have to use them to catch up on work I at least don't feel like I'm on call 24/7 and D is home to take care of the baby so I can focus. Sooooo ... note to self - maybe revisit the checklist and see if I can't do a better job of taking care of myself for the rest of the summer, as brief as it is.


  1. I really enjoyed reading this blog post and have found it extremely useful for myself. I am currently in the middle of my 7th month of pregnancy and am so excited about maternity leave. Equally, I am nervous about what it will be like as it is the unknown! Thank you for sharing your list of priorities, I think I will be pinching these for myself to focus on.
    Love, Kate xo

  2. You’re a rock star. Thanks for the PPD Awareness- I had terrible PPD after my first and mostly avoided a relapse with my second via meds and self-care. I’m a therapist (and long time follower of your blog) and I LOVE your checklist- I work with new Mammas now with PPD or “transition difficulties” because I went back to work full time too and oh hey balance was NON-EXISTANT. Thanks for being real.

  3. Thank you so much for all your recent posts. I am having a baby any day now and your thoughts and reflections are so valuable to me!!!

  4. Maternity leave is my favorite :). (Going back to work afterwards ... not so much!!). Best of luck in your fifth tri!!!

  5. I hear this SO SO MUCH. The list and the categories were what I needed to do as well and it made a HUGE difference (I also deal with anxiety in general). I worked from home for 2 months as well and it was HARD. You are doing great!!

  6. I am nearing the end of my maternity leave (and want to cry just thinking about it!). I am now, finally, getting into a nice routine - following a checklist has been key for me too. I make sure to get out of the house each day - even if the weather isn’t ideal. Reaching out to friends and family had been the other main goal because adult conversations are so important to my sanity! Thank you for sharing this as it especially rings true for me right now :)

  7. Omg!!! I haven't checked on you in almost a year, only to find out you have a baby!!! She's precious. Congratulations, and I'm glad y'all are doing well!


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